How Diabetes Can Affect Your Eye Health and Vision

Jul 17, 2022 | Eye Health

Diabetes affects your entire body, including your eyes. Did you know that diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults ages 20–74? [1]

Diabetes is a group of diseases that affect how the body uses blood glucose (or blood sugar). Glucose is vital to your health because it’s an important source of energy for cells and tissues in your muscles and organs, as well as the main source of fuel for your brain.  When your blood sugar goes up, the pancreas releases insulin. With diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use it very well, and this means high levels of blood sugar stay in your bloodstream.

Diabetes can cause fatigue and weight loss, and it can also cause blurry vision, which is worsened by high levels of blood sugar. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause visual impairment or blindness. In some cases, it goes unrecognized while causing damage to the retina.  

People who have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes can develop serious complications with their eye health and vision. Diabetes can affect the eyes when blood sugar is too high, particularly when this level is not controlled over time. When blood sugar is too high, it can damage the blood vessels in the back of the eyes which may leak fluid or cause swelling.   

How can diabetes affect eye health and vision?

Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of diseases that can affect people with diabetes. Diabetic eye disease can damage the eyes and result in poor vision or blindness, and often there are no symptoms in the early stages. Anyone with diabetes can develop diabetic eye disease, but the risk increases if blood sugar levels and/or blood pressure levels aren’t controlled.   

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss and blindness for diabetics. This disease affects the blood vessels in the retina, which is the light-sensitive layer in the back of the eye. In the early stages of the disease, there may not be any obvious symptoms. However, as the blood vessels start to bleed into the vitreous, which is a gel-like fluid that fills the eye, in the later stages, dark, floating spots or streaks may appear in your vision. The risk of developing diabetic retinopathy increases the longer you have diabetes.

Cataracts are common as people age, but they can happen to diabetics at an earlier age than people without diabetes. Cataracts cause the front part of the eye to become cloudy and can make vision blurry or hazy, cause colors to seem faded, reduce night vision, increase sensitivity to light, and lead to vision loss over time.   

Diabetic macular edema is characterized by a build-up of fluid and swelling in the macula, which is the part of the retina used to see clearly while driving, reading, and seeing faces. This disease can damage the vision in this part of the eye, and lead to either partial vision loss or blindness.   

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve. This disease is sometimes called “the silent thief of sight” because it can begin with little to no pain or symptoms, and the only way to catch it is through regular eye exams. Diabetics have an increased risk of developing glaucoma.   

Diabetic eye exam

It is important for diabetics to get regular eye exams to avoid vision loss or other eye problems, many of which have no obvious symptoms in the early stages. Book an appointment at Clarin Eye Care Center or Coral Gables Eye Care for a comprehensive eye exam in Palmetto Bay or Coral Gables.